Ballad (music)

Ballad (music)

In jazz and popular music, the term ballad denotes a short song in a slow tempo, usually with a romantic or sentimental text, though the term is also used for instrumental pieces. [Randel 1986, p. 68] Ballad is also used in modern pop and folk music for a (usually faster) strophic narrative song, analogous to the older poetic term ballad. [Randel 1986, p. 67] The latter usage is usually meant when the word "ballad" appears in the song's title. Ballads are often regarded as the blatant opposite of a true dance track.

Jazz and traditional pop music

Evolution of the term

The common modern usage of "ballad" may have evolved from usage in 19th-century Britain. "Ballads" were generally sentimental, narrative, strophic songs published separately or as part of an opera (descendants perhaps of broadside ballads, but with printed music, and usually newly composed; see also ballad opera). These were sometimes called "drawing-room ballads" owing to their popularity with the middle classes. By the Victorian era "ballad" had come to mean any sentimental popular song, especially so-called "royalty ballads", which publishers would pay popular singers to perform in Britain and the United States on "ballad concerts." Some of Stephen Foster's songs exemplify this genre. [Temperley (II,2).] By the 1920s, composers of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway used "ballad" to signify a slow, sentimental tune or love song, often written in a fairly standardized form (see below). Jazz musicians sometimes broaden the term still further to embrace all slow-tempo pieces. [Witmer. See also Middleton (I,4,i).]


Most pop standard and jazz ballads are built from the following elements:
# A single, introductory "verse"; usually around 16 bars in length, and ending on the dominant. This is often omitted in performance, especially for an instrumental rendition, and some ballads, especially later ones, lack it altogether.
# The "chorus" or "refrain", i.e. the song proper. Usually it is 16 or 32 bars long, and in AABA form, though other forms such as ABAC are not uncommon, and more complex or irregular forms are far from unheard-of. In AABA forms the B section is usually referred to as the "bridge".
# Optionally, a brief "coda", sometimes based on material from the bridge, as in "Over the Rainbow". [Randel 1986, p. 68.]


Ballads form an important part of the jazz repertory especially, and a pop or jazz "set" or "act" (period between breaks) will usually contain one or two ballads to provide a relaxed, intimate change of pace from faster material; or to feature a singer or instrumental soloist. As noted above, the introduction or verse is most often omitted, even by singers; though some ballads, for instance "Lush Life" or "'Round Midnight", traditionally retain their introductions. Repetitions of the chorus tend to be relatively few—often only the second half (BA) of the song-form is repeated—and improvisation, beyond ornamentation of the melody, is usually limited, though the singer or soloist often interpolates an improvised cadenza before the final note of the song. Occasionally a ballad will be reinterpreted as an up-tempo number (and vice-versa), especially by instrumentalists. "Autumn Leaves", for instance, will sometimes receive both treatments in a single performance (as well as being sung in two languages). Thus the identification of a particular song as a ballad can be contingent on the performer, and "ballad" can sometimes refer to the performing style rather than the song itself.


Famous traditional pop and jazz standard ballads include:
* "Over the Rainbow" – Harold Arlen
* "Body and Soul" – Johnny Green
* "Misty" – Erroll Garner
* "The Man I Love" – George Gershwin
* "My Funny Valentine" – Rodgers and Hart
* "God Bless the Child" – Billie Holiday
* "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" – Cole Porter
* "Naima" – John Coltrane (an instrumental ballad)
* "Lush Life" – Billy Strayhorn
* "In a Sentimental Mood" – Duke Ellington
* "'Round Midnight" – Thelonious Monk
* "Always" - Irving Berlin

Modern pop and folk music


Folk musicians usually use "ballad" to refer to a narrative strophic song, traditional or newly composed, that may be fast or slow. Folk ballads often have several verses, and generally follow either a simple verse form (i.e. Verse 1, Verse 2...) or a verse-chorus form (Verse 1, Chorus, Verse 2, Chorus...). The chorus may consist of nonsense words. Multiple folk ballad texts may share the same melody; conversely the same text may be sung to multiple melodies. [Randel p. 67]

Some exemplars include:
* "Barbara Allen", and the various iterations of "The Daemon Lover" (both Child Ballads in simple verse form, still popular today);
* "Whiskey in the Jar" (a traditional ballad with a nonsense chorus);
* Dominic Behan's "The Patriot Game" (a short modern ballad, in simple verse form);
* Eric Bogle's "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" (a modern anti-war ballad, in a more complex form, verse-chorus with a coda).


In modern popular music (since c. 1955) one encounters both of the above usages for "ballad".
# When used generically, as in "power ballad" or "rock ballad", it usually refers to a slow love song, in the American popular tradition. Musicologist Richard Middleton offers this broader definition: " [By] the time of the development of the rock ballad the genre can be defined simply as a slowish pop song, with subjectively orientated and often romantic themes and a personal mode of address." [Middleton (I.4.i)]
# When the word "ballad" appears in the title of a song, as for example in Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets" or Billy Joel's "The Ballad of Billy the Kid", the folk-music sense is generally implied. "Ballad" is also sometimes applied to strophic story-songs more generally, such as Don McLean's "American Pie". Modern pop ballads of this kind tend towards greater formal complexity than their folk antecedents. [McLean's song, for instance, is in a fairly intricate compound verse-chorus form where each verse is itself in a modified AABA form, incorporating irregular phrase-lengths and rhyme schemes. Its kinship with the traditional folk ballad is thus basically limited to its narrative character; yet the label is applied, though not consistently.] Thus for example: while The Beatles' "The Ballad of John and Yoko" and their "Hey Jude" differ greatly from one another in form, lyrical content and musical character, both are commonly referred to as ballads.

ee also

*Corrido - a form of ballad originating in northern Mexico and the U.S. southwest
*Song structure (popular music)
*Blues ballad
*Torch song
* Power ballad


References and further reading

* Middleton, Richard. "Popular Music (I)". " [ Grove Music Online] " ed. L. Macy (subscription required). Accessed 2007-04-06.
* Randel, Don (1986). "The New Harvard Dictionary of Music". Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-61525-5.
* Temperley, Nicholas. "Ballad (II, 2)". " [ Grove Music Online] " ed. L. Macy (subscription required). Accessed 2007-04-06.
* Witmer, Robert. "Ballad (jazz)". " [ Grove Music Online] " ed. L. Macy (subscription required). Accessed 2007-04-06.

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